Edinburgh Avenue Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601
|Opening hours||Monday-Wednesday 7am-4pm, Thursday-Friday 7am-9.30pm, Saturday 8am-9.30pm.|
|Features||BYO, Licensed, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Seats||75-80 inside and outside.|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa|
|Phone||02 6257 6412|
"Wait, does that say 'condor egg'? We have to order it.''
Yes, it does say ''condor egg'' on the menu - a soft-boiled egg that's been deep fried and served on a nest of kataifi actually.
We are definitely ordering that one. But what about this queso frito, pan-fried provolone with herbs, chilli and lemon? That sounds good too. Or the ceviche of prawns and scallops with coconut milk? Intriguing.
We're at the Cupping Room on the edge of NewActon in Civic. We haven't had to fight our way past Clyde Rathbone, David Pocock and dozens of other hip young coffee drinkers to get our little table by the window and there aren't any brightly coloured Reid cycles tethered out the front.
That's because it's about 8pm and we're here for dinner. This is a relatively new phenomenon at the Cupping Room. It's usually a buzzing cafe filled for breakfast and lunch. But in the last couple of weeks it's started serving dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The service is much the same as at breakfast: friendly, cheerful, and plenty of small talk that sets up a relaxed atmosphere. A quick glance at the menu shows the same South American stylings as the breakfast and lunch dishes. Since this review was completed we've been told the dinner service is about to be revamped completely and the menu will move away from shared plates.
But we can't review that until it happens. Meanwhile the condor egg ($12) - is definitely happening. And the ceviche with lime juice, coconut milk and sweet potato ($16). The egg looks interesting, a sphere perched on a bed of crunchy kataifi pastry threads. Cut through it with a fork and the yolk comes out in a sunset-yellow river, nicely seasoned and gooey soft against the crisp shreds of pastry. A dollop of garlicky sauce provides tang and the last threads of eggy pastry are fought over with forks at close quarters.
A somewhat soupy ceviche of prawn and scallop follows. You expect a ceviche to be citric but this is pretty sharp. Chunks of sweet potato lend a lovely earthy sweetness that counters the lime juice. There's meant to be coconut in there too but it's lost in all that acidity. But you can't fault the big flavours and it's a clever use of contrasts.
For mains, the beef rib with sticky orange and achiote is very good value ($28) - a huge slab with at least half a dozen ribs. They're a glossy black on the outside and served with perfectly crisp fries. But then we apply knife and fork to meat and the result is unexpectedly unpleasant. There's a huge amount of sawing required to get through the ribs, so much that the table starts to wobble. One of us has to brace the glasses of water and condiments while the other hacks away. Sadly the meat is tough on the outside and a sort of bulging pink on the inside.
The waiter suddenly appears. ''I'm sorry but that doesn't look right,'' he says, with a frown, leaning in to inspect the beef. ''Yeah, that definitely doesn't look right.'' And he takes charge of the situation, whisking the ribs back to the kitchen. The chef isn't happy with them and offers to cook us another dish, pork shoulder with crackling.
If anything, this is impressive: waiters who aren't afraid to intervene straight away when they notice something wrong. A lesser restaurant might have let us saw away at the beef until we were blue in the face. But that hasn't happened here and it's a credit to the waiters and the people who lead them.
The pork shoulder, for the record, is a delightful collection of tender slices that can be cut with a fork and make good companions for strips of golden brown crackling. There's a quinoa salad on the side that's got plenty of tart to offset the fatty, crisp crackling. It's a very good dish.
There are no desserts - again, we've since been told this could change quite soon - but a glass of cold-brewed coffee is refreshingly fruity. And proper tea drinkers will be pleased to know the Cupping Room takes tea just as seriously as coffee. A cup of Earl Grey is served with a timer at just the right temperature to brew.
So there was a major hiccup in the night but the Cupping Room's service and willingness to fix mistakes means we walk out happy - and the rest of the dishes show a chef who has flair and a love of bold flavours.
It will be interesting to see what happens next.